Arsenal’s first league defeat exposes Havertz, attacking depth



NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England — Mikel Arteta replaced back-up striker Eddy Nketiah with winger Leandro Trossard as Arsenal tried to preserve their unbeaten Premier League record in the final stages of their 1-0 defeat at Newcastle. If ever a substitution emphasized a team’s plight, this was it.

The £65 million summer signing of Kai Havertz from Chelsea now looks like a vanity buy for Arteta who ignored the real problem in his squad — the lack of a reliable goalscorer — in favor of a player who is undeniably talented, but one who is a luxury in a team that is already one title away. The winning side has all the features While that money could have been better spent competing for Gabriel Jesus and Nketiah for a proven centre-forward, Arteta instead opted to sign Havertz as a player who “sees the whole pitch.” What Arsenal really needed was a player who could see the goal and put the ball into it.

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So with Jesus absent through injury at St James’ Park and Nketiah struggling to get forward against Newcastle centre-half duo Jamal Lascelles and Fabian Schar, Arteta turned to former Brighton winger Trossard to save the game as an 80th-minute substitute. Havertz, meanwhile, remains on the pitch in his role as neither a forward nor a midfielder, yet backed by Arteta to be the game-changer he hoped he would be when he lured him to the Emirates.

But he didn’t change the game. Havertz has now scored one goal in 11 league appearances for Arsenal this season and his presence in the team is causing irritation among supporters. He has proven himself to be a big-game player for Chelsea, scoring Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup winners, but he has so far been a fish out of water at Arsenal and Arteta’s decision to sign him is already under scrutiny.

Arsenal are still firmly in the title race despite this defeat at St James’, with the Gunners just three points behind leaders Manchester City, but last season’s runners-up were worryingly toothless against Eddie Howe’s side.

They have been consistently linked with a January move for Brentford forward Ivan Toney, whose eight-month ban for a betting breach will expire in January. 16, but after investing much of the club’s transfer funds in Havertz during the summer, Arsenal will need to raise the funds before even considering a move for Toney, who is also interested in Chelsea and Manchester United.

Without the money, Arsenal cannot sign Toney due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, so Arteta’s decision to sign Havertz could still deny the Gunners the chance to strengthen an area that desperately needs strengthening. Arsenal still have goals from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard. All three of them have surpassed Jesus, who has 11 goals in the league.

But none of them hit 20 league goals and that is often the minimum required for a title-winning club’s top scorer. Look at how many goals Arling Haaland scored for City last season — 36 — and how Mohamed Salah broke the 20-goal barrier for Liverpool in four of his six seasons at Anfield.

With Jesus injured, Arteta has to rely on Nketia as his centre-forward, but the 24-year-old is not good enough to be the title-challenger’s main striker. He is a good option to have in the squad, but nowhere near the required level. Had Arsenal arrived at Newcastle with a striker like Toney or Newcastle’s Callum Wilson, his presence would have given Saka and Martinelli more freedom and space to cause problems.

But instead, they had Havertz whose only contribution was to ignite the Newcastle crowd with a wild first-half challenge on Sean Longstaff that resulted in a yellow card but could have deserved a red. Arsenal managed just one shot on target and that statistic speaks to their lack of punch up front.

But while this is an area that Arteta has overlooked, his decision to replace goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with David Raya, on a season-long loan from Brentford, also threatens to hamper Arsenal’s title challenge. Raya’s ability as a sweeper-keeper was deemed so superior to that of Arteta Ramsdale that he made the switch, but Raya was still unable to settle into his new role as the Gunners’ number one and failed to produce a better effort. Dealing with the cross that led to Gordon’s goal was a failing the manager did not address while criticizing the VAR decision.

So when Arteta lashed out at the officials, calling the decision “embarrassing” and an “absolute disgrace”, he deflected attention from his own errors. And by failing to sign a striker during the summer, Arteta has damaged his side’s prospects more than the controversial VAR decision.



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